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December 26th, 2011

As the year draws to a close, we’re reminded of many significant endings in 2011. Here’s a short list of what got our (and the world’s) attention. What would you add to the list?
U.S. Military Operations in Iraq — …After nine years, the Iraq War (also referred to as the Occupation of Iraq, the Second Gulf War, or Operation Iraqi Freedom by the U.S. military) is over. U.S. troops returned home earlier this month, just in time for the holidays. By the numbers: Almost 4,500 U.S. soldiers were killed, more than 32,500 were wounded with thousands more suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. An estimated 110,000 Iraqi civilians were killed during the war. Here’s a link to a photo

January 19th, 2011
(1936 - 2010)

It is fitting that the first film Dennis Hopper appeared in was Rebel Without A Cause, yet it is even more appropriate that he was not cast in the titular role. That iconic leather jacket was, of course, worn by James Dean who would subsequently co-star with Hopper in the film Giant, where once again Hopper played second fiddle to Dean’s leading man.
The reality is that Hopper was the authentic “rebel without a cause” in lowercase. He appeared in some of the most significant films of the past half century — including the paean to the 1960s countercultural movement Easy Rider…, which he also co-wrote and directed — but he was always overshadowed by his more affable co-stars, such as Dean,

January 11th, 2011
(1930-2010)

I’m 7 years old and the Yankees are king. It seems as if they never lose and I hate them with a passion. Their owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin argue publicly over the way the team should be run. They even take their screaming match to TV and jokingly poke fun at their rift in a light beer commercial. “Tastes great” and “less filling” are the least of their problems. Their public feud gives New Yorkers something to talk about. And it all keeps Steinbrenner on the back pages. My childhood saw more of Steinbrenner on the back pages of the local papers than I can recall.
It’s amazing how much one remembers from childhood and George Steinbrenner’s was no different.…

January 6th, 2011
(1925-2010)

“We’re like sisters!” the big ugly woman with the Bronx baritone replied caustically and I laughed. I laughed so hard I had to roll off of my 8-year-old belly so as not to hurt myself on that bleak Friday night in front of my grandmother’s old RCA television. My sense of humor, still in its embryonic stage, didn’t grasp a lot of the humor in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, but Tony Curtis in drag attempting to justify his relationship with Marilyn Monroe’s Sugar Kane was one of the funniest things I had seen in my young life.
Tony Curtis was easily the best part of my first excursion into the world of black-and-white films — or any film that pre-dates Star Wars…, for that

January 5th, 2011
Alexander McQueen (1969 - 2010), Mark Linkous (1962 - 2010) and Andrew Koenig (1968 - 2010)

These people, who had contributed much to the world; who could be gratified by the lives they had touched; who seemed to have a passion and a calling; who had more accomplishments to point at than most of us ever do — each took his own life, a heinous act of nihilism, in his 40s. This past year saw the campaign, “It gets better,” telling kids struggling with bullying to stick it out, saying that once you grow up, you can put all that in perspective and move on with your life. Well, many people struggle with depression and hopelessness as adults too…

January 4th, 2011
The passing of Barbara Billingsley (1915-2010), Peter Graves (1926-2010) and Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010)

Bob Hope, at his peak, was considered one of the funniest men on the planet. But show his performances to someone from the generations who have come after him and they may not elicit a lot of laughs. It’s not because Bob Hope wasn’t a good comedian, but because his humor was so dependent upon the time, place and circumstances in which the jokes were told. Consequently, if the time, place and circumstances are removed from the equation, the humor being conveyed loses most — if not all — of its impact.
I mention this because 30 years after the film’s release, Airplane!… remains one of the funniest movies ever made. Gag after gag is packed into this film like a carry-on bag stuffed with three

December 31st, 2010
(1919-2010)

Holden Caulfield’s Moments of Grace
The spiritual wisdom of Salinger’s famous teen
Midway through J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye…, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, notices a child walking along the streets of New York City. Even though Holden is in a bad way — he’s flunked out of school; he feels isolated from nearly everyone he knows — the child lifts his spirits.
“He was making out like he was walking a very straight line, the way kids do, and the whole time he kept singing and humming. I got up closer so I could hear what he was singing. He was singing that song, ‘If a body catch a body coming through the rye.’ He had a pretty little voice, too.

December 30th, 2010
(1973-2010)

Hospice.
The word sounds ominous enough when it’s spoken in reference to an older person, but when it’s used to describe the dying months of a 37-year-old woman, it is dreadful to my ears.
One of my all-time favorite people, Elizabeth Bonwich — or “EEEEEEEEEEEEE BEEEEEEEEEE” as I would call her in my best “public address announcer” voice whenever I greeted her — spent her last few months in hospice. She died on Saturday Dec. 18th in the late evening. Elizabeth had five different kinds of cancer for nearly 20 years. Cancer robbed her of her ability to walk without a brace and a cane, caused a constant ringing in her ears and, in general, gave her lots of reasons to…

December 28th, 2010
(1934 - 2010)

After college I had to have my own apartment. Like so many other young women, I saw this independence as an exhilarating and gratifying rite of passage. But it could also be very lonely. I found that at the end of the day, I would put on the television just to have some other voices in the apartment. I really liked to fall asleep with the television on and at the end of the day Lifetime — “the network for women” — was always showing just the right thing to entertain and calm me: The Golden Girls.
The Golden Girls… originally aired on NBC from 1985 to 1992. I remember my grandmothers watching it when they came to visit my home, but I wasn’t a fan until it was in reruns. Each of the four older female

December 31st, 2009
(1930-2009)

Did any among us not grow up with Disney? Children of the 40s marked their years with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi. For boomers, it was Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians and Jungle Book. By the time I came along, Disney’s animated features had lost their spark. But my family gathered around the family TV set every Sunday night at 7:30 to watch The Wonderful World of Disney… — a collection of animation, feature movies, TV dramas and nature documentaries. This brew, rich on American stories like Davey Crockett, helped shape my worldview. For children of the 80s and 90s, Disney animated feature films

December 31st, 2009
A former CBS employee recalls the most trusted name in news

Long before Twitter or Drudge or Huffington or Gawker, there was another one-word media monolith, bigger and more influential than any one else.
Walter.
Television viewers didn’t call him Cronkite. Or even Mr. Cronkite. To America, he was just Walter. Everyone knew who you were talking about when you uttered that name. When I was growing up, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, he was part of an American ritual: come home, have dinner, watch Walter. He told us “that’s the way it is,” and we know he was right. Occasionally, people would also sit down to Chet and David (over at NBC) or Harry and Barbara (at ABC). But Walter was it. Nobody could touch him. He was gravitas, and veritas – gravity and truth – and…

December 31st, 2009
A near-Irishman salutes Frank McCourt (1930-2009)

Also check out the latest Busted Halo Cast about Frank McCourt.…

Deanna, my ex-girlfriend, grew up in Boston. Recalling her early home life, she would sing a litany of parental neglect, substance abuse and financial mismanagement. Apparently, the one bright moment came when she saw one of her friends break most of her toes in a step-dancing accident.
I envied her. She would never have to search for her Irishness.
My own connection with the land of St. Brigid and Molly Bloom was much more tenuous. My mother’s family had left it sometime before the outbreak of the American Civil War. My father’s family, consisting of Polish and Ukrainian Jews, never made it there in the first place. Reaching backward across

December 31st, 2009
Remembering Robert Novak (1931-2009)

On a sunny-cold February day in 2001, I drove 70 miles to an Indianapolis hotel to pick up the journalist Robert Novak, whom I would be introducing at rural Wabash College for a public lecture that evening.
Snow covered the cornfields between Crawfordsville and Indianapolis. As an aspiring journalist — not quite 21 years old — I was eagerly looking forward to spending some personal time with a man who had “hit it big” as a newspaper columnist and pundit. What was his secret? How did he get so many scoops?
Memories of this day flooded back to me recently as I thought about Novak, who died this month at age 78 and was laid to rest on August 24. Although I spent only two years as a newspaper reporter before joining…

December 31st, 2009
And You Probably Don't Know His Name

Quick — can you give me the latest on the divorce drama between Jon & Kate Gosselin? Or why Paula Abdul isn’t going to be judging this year’s American Idol? Odds are you can answer those questions but you can’t tell me the name of the man who died recently after saving more than a billion lives.
I’ll give you another hint: He was one of only six people ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
You can probably name most of the other five recipients of this trio of honors — Martin Luther King, Jr., Elie Wiesel, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi — but odds are you’ve never heard this man’s…

December 31st, 2009
(1975 - 2009)

Hallett during better times

I love a good rags-to-riches story. A vampire spin-off is not the usual definition of riches, but for the millions of people who love the Buffyverse, Andy Hallett was a success.
Hallett started his career in Los Angeles as Joss Whedon’s wife’s personal assistant. For those who don’t know, Joss Whedon was the writer, creator and driving force behind the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly — series known for being equal parts camp and brilliant writing.
After Whedon and friends went to see Hallett sing at B.B. King’s in Los Angeles, Whedon conceived of an Angel… character written just for Hallett. The character was Krevlornswath of the

December 31st, 2009
(1952 - 2009)

There are some famous people that seem so kind and so genuine that I am glad they are somewhere in the world. I don’t need to meet them or visit their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I just want to know they exist in the madhouse of entertainment and keep their heads while doing it. For me, Patrick Swayze was one of those famous people.
Like all Americans raised in the 1980s, watching Dirty Dancing, The Outsiders or Red Dawn… every weekend on basic cable provided cinematic life lessons. The Brat Pack taught me many things: detention is determined by the group of people you are detained with; and dancing makes all ages, races and classes happy.
Later in my life, however, Patrick Swayze the man taught me something

December 31st, 2009
(1949 - 2009)

It is impossible to create and not expose yourself. In fiction, music or memoir, there is the beating heart of the writer’s own life experiences between every line. Fear of exposing themselves in the way that is necessary for others to connect keeps some writers from ever being publishing, or taking their talent to the next level. Jim Carroll did not have that fear. He was a creative force who exposed himself in words, music and even basketball.
To the uninitiated, Jim Carroll was a punk rock icon, singer, writer, spoken word artist and poet who inserted Catholic imagery whenever he could. “Catholic Boy”was his first song to be released, in 1980. It is a raucous story of survival, swirling in phrases…

December 31st, 2009
(1923 - 2009)

During that third week of June when we lost King of Pop and the Queen of Pinup on the same day, it was easy for the death of someone who spent most of his life as a sidekick to be brushed aside. It was easy for the shock of losing two people Generation X once considered dynamic role models to overshadow the loss of someone who was considered, in his own way, a great uncle.
If you have ever watched Conan O’Brien and wondered why he has Andy Richter sitting next to him night after night, Ed McMahon is the reason why. From all accounts, it’s a very difficult thing to be a stand-up comedian, putting yourself out there in front of millions of people each night… even Jerry Seinfeld confesses to getting nervous before…

December 31st, 2009
Recollections of mass and Sunday brunch with the professional wrestling legend

“Captain” Lou Albano (1933-2009) — professional wrestling legend and star of Cyndi Lauper videos — was what my grandmother called “a nice Italian boy.” Never mind that by the time she met him, he was in his 50s; and, that to an entire industry of professional wrestlers, being called “nice” would have been the kiss of death. None of that concerned my grandmother, who never saw Captain Lou at work. She just liked him because he praised her tortellini en brodo….
According to family lore, Captain Lou was introduced to us thanks to an encounter after hours at a local bar in our hometown of Carmel, NY, a bedroom community an hour north of New York City. He took one look at

December 31st, 2009
(1986-2009)

It was just the beginning of the season… the April dew still lingered on the short blades of grass, the electricity and excitement for a year full of potential filled the air, and just a few hours earlier, a young Angel pitcher by the name of Nick Adenhart had thrown six shut out innings in his season debut. The future was bright. The baseball world was his oyster. And then came the crash.
Nick Adenhart, 22, and two others tragically died in a car accident last April when a drunk driver blew through a red light and struck their vehicle with maximum force. It happened hours after Adenhart took to the field in just his fourth Major League start ever. He had achieved his dream of playing baseball at the highest level. But…

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